Sunday, May 8, 2016

An Interview with Tony Pierce

by Drew Martin
See the guy with the biggest smile in the picture? He's on the right with the girl's arms around him. That's Tony Pierce, and it's a staff photo of The Daily Nexus, which was taken a quarter of a century ago.

The Nexus was (at that time) a daily printed newspaper for University of California at Santa Barbara, which meant that on any given night you could walk into the office under the campus bell tower and you would find a buzz of action. It was a remarkable staff that swept the college journalists awards at the time. They were smart, young writers and editors, and had the hardest work ethic on campus. Each individual was dedicated to his or her craft. I know this first-hand because for two years I visited every night to work on the editorial drawings and for three years I contributed a daily cartoon. I got $7 a drawing and a priceless education from Tony and his colleagues. I followed some of the staff to Prague to work on the paper they started there after the Velvet Revolution, called The Prognosis, and later I contributed to an offshoot, which still exists to this day - The Prague Post.

At the Nexus Tony stood out to me because in addition to his editorial assistance he always had pearls of wisdom that he delivered with his informed thinking and cool demeanor. Even though I no longer have the privilege to go down to the newspaper office and catch a moment with Tony, I can still follow his steady flow of personal musings on his blog: busblog - nothing in here is true.

After recently reading an interview with Tony and a friend of his: 20 Questions with Tony Pierce, I wanted a piece of the action too....fortunately he was up for it. 

Hi Tony, thanks for agreeing to do an interview. It's been like a quarter of a century since we last saw each other but your advisory asides to me have been kept close to heart.

That's super nice of you. Yes - time flies. It's crazy!


For some reason I never tuned into the fact that you were from Chicago. Most everyone I met at UCSB was from Cali, or nearby states. Coming from Jersey, Santa Barbara was paradise but it seemed like everyone else was used to it: nice weather, stunning ocean views, attractive people. It's still my favorite place on Earth and I think you are even more enthusiastic about it than I am. How did you end up at UCSB?

It was a paradise for me too! I left for LA the day after my high school graduation and did two years at Santa Monica College. I never did well in school, but all you needed back then was like a 2.6 GPA to transfer to a UC as long as you took all the required classes.

I applied for and got into UCLA and UCSB but I didn't know which one to go to. At the time I was pumping gas at an all-full serve station near Beverly Hills. If anyone had a UCLA or UCSB sticker on their car I'd ask them about their experience.

The UCLA people would say, "oh it's great, you should go." But the UCSB people were all, "OMG it's the greatest EVER! You have to do this, eat here, drink there, hike there, take these classes, live on this street. OMG!" Their energy was wild! I'm glad I took their advice because now I am one of those cheerleaders for that school and especially the College of Creative Studies.


What would have become of the Tony Pierce who stayed in Illinois?

I'd have a house, that's for sure. Probably a family. Couple of dogs. Backyard. I'd be the typical, fine, but forgettable dude who coaches little league and doesn't get interviewed about anything.


How does a tenure teaching position at the College of Creative Studies at UCSB with faculty housing by Coal Oil Point sound for a second/third career? What would you teach? Give me a course description.

That would be a dream of all dreams.

One of the weird things about UCSB is the library has the largest collection of Charles Bukowski manuscripts and letters in the world and yet not even CSS has ever had a class about him as far as I recall. Even when we were in school there I was outraged that one of the greatest writers of the 20th century got no love there.

I would teach a couple of his novels Post Office, Women, and Hollywood and maybe about 100 of his poems. Then we'd watch Barfly and compare it to Hollywood. I'd also try to get his wife Linda Bukowski to talk to the kids via Skype as well as his publisher John Martin. I'd also try to get Mickey Rourke to come in and talk about what it was like to work with him.


You refer to UCSB/The Daily Nexus as "the greatest school in the world has the greatest college paper in the world" (I totally agree). I was never officially on staff but I contributed every day for three years (for two years editorial illustrations and for three years a daily cartoon) so I felt pretty connected and I loved the vibe of the newsroom in the evening. For all of us this was on the side and yet it was such an important part of my college experience. What did you learn the most from the Nexus?

I wonder why you were never considered part of the staff. You were a regular part of the paper for as long as I could remember. And vital! Your style was so unique and unlike anything you'd normally see in a newspaper. Added to that the artwork by Debbie Urlich, Stacey Teas, Moish, Paulo, Greg McIlvane, and of course Todd Francis. And Dougie and Video Guy were doing cool things on the only Mac in the building -- the embarrassment of riches we had just on the Art Desk was insane. All of you were working at a professional level as teenagers. I could ask for an image of anything and it would be right on the money, creative, and on time every time. And it didn't look childish. And then your strip -- mama mia! I still have your book and I can't believe we didn't figure out a way to better exploit your talents.

What I learned most from the Nexus was: giving 100%, 100% of the time is easier than giving 90%. I would wake up thinking about the Nexuswhat I was going to write, who I was going to interview, what was going to happen on whatever section I was editing. Who should do what. What the page should look like. I'd go to class and then skate right over to the Nexus and stay there all night. It was a total joy because almost everyone else there was on that same routine. We were all mutually obsessed and it showed in our work.

It was also nice to learn that we were as good, if not better, than all of the other California collegiate journalists, who had actual journalism classes, advisors, and teachers.


I went to Prague in 1992 to contribute to the Nexus + Velvet Revolution lovechild, The Prognosis but did more of a Heart of Darkness thing and disappeared into the anarchist squatter scene and moved up to a factory town with another squatter. I was in Czech for five years. I forgot what your involvement was. Did you spend any time in Prague?

I have three major regrets in my life: I was a bad boyfriend to a sweet young lady, I nearly died in Vegas, and I never went to Prague. When Matt Welch and crew moved there I was about to graduate and could have easily been the Bread and Circuses Editor but I was deeply in love with Jeanine Natalie and we had a cute little apartment on Madrid. So instead of going, I stayed in Isla Vista, got a job at Sears and sold tvs and stereos while trying to get a job at Warner Bros Records.

It was probably for the best because I'm sure I would have fallen in love with one of the first blue eyed Czech girls who would have kissed me and we woulda gotten married and right now I'd be coaching little league in Poland.


Before I went off to Europe I was contributing to The Stranger in Seattle. They had just started up by the original staff of The OnionMy Bovina (A Tragic Cow Story) was getting a second life there but I axed it because I was leaving the U.S. for an indefinite time. I kind of regret that. I think it could have turned into something bigger had I stuck with it (more so than any other project I have ever had). What's something you worked on in the past that you regret not sticking with?

I have had a history of getting fired before I was able to quit. Even at the Nexus I was fired by Larry, and later banned by him. HA! So all of my personal projects, like have been able to flourish because no one else could pull the plug.

But I would say any time I see an ex-girlfriend on Facebook or on Timehop, I almost always say, I shouldn't have broken up with her. Look at her. Remember how great she was? There were a few where clearly the end should have come sooner. But mostly I prematurely ended it, which was a mistake. Rarely do I make good decisions. That's why I am glad I asked those random strangers at the gas station where I should go to college.


I like how you have a "bloggers who still have blogs" list on your blog. I am not on it but then again, I am not really a true blogger am I? I have 650ish posts since 2009 but I don't really qualify do I? I mean, I use the blog to post my musings but does a blogger in your mind have more of a journalistic bent, or is it more about spontaneity?

AHAHAH. I didn't know anyone even looked at anything way down there. To be honest, I'm shocked when I find out any one even reads my blog at all! As for those links I don't even think half of those people still blog, it's been so long since I've updated that. Even the
"copyright" is five years old.

You have been added because I do think you have had enough posts to qualify.

To me blogging can be either journalisty or arty or even a shopping list. But it has to be ongoing in a regular capacity of some sort. It has to be part of your routine in a way even if your routine is just weekly or bi monthly. We love the full moon and that bitch only comes
every 30 days or so.

To me what isn't blogging is, "oh yeah I guess I have a blog, let me repeat something someone else said in it today because I don't want to think of something myself." Or worse "hey heres a way I can make some money, quick!" Fortunately now that the fad of blogging has died, the actual bloggers have less noise to compete with.


This blog is an overlapping of art, film, music, books, etc. I look at all of these media as one medium actually. Aside from blogging to express yourself, what is your favorite medium and what is a media project you would like to get involved with?

My favorite medium of expressing myself besides blogging is probably whispering in the ear of a hot babe right after it has been decided which Marvin Gaye album we're gonna listen to for six to seven minutes.


Let me take that back a moment - this blog's starting point is art. What is your favorite artist /work of art and why?

I have several favorite artists. When I was in high school, every semester I took an art class. I drew every day. When I got to UCSB I would sit in on art history and art appreciation classes all the time because I didn't want to do the homework or take tests but I loved being in those huge classes where the teacher would show slides of flying buttresses and tell you how bad ass some artists were - even with their buildings.

I love art so much that after I saw "The Art of the Steal" (2009), I flew to NYC and took a bus to Philly so I could see the Barnes museum before they fucked it up. Greatest art museum I ever saw because the dude, Dr. Barnes, wasn't interested in anything other than the quality of the pieces and having them displayed in an interesting way. So you got to see Picassos right next to Van Goghs. Pieces you'd never seen before because he never turned any of them into coffee mugs or mouse pads. [read the busblog post on this]

The coolest thing I ever saw though was The Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado in Spain. I love Andy Warhol so much. I love Shepard Fairey. Banksy. Seeing Michaelangelo's Moses blew me away, but Hieronymus Bosch was such a madman, and that piece is huuuuge. It's like seven feet tall and 12 feet wide. With sooooo much detail and beautiful color in it. The quality, technique, and mayhem going on there is amazing. That's something I'm so glad I saw in person because on the page it's weird whatever but in person you're like holy shit!


You sometimes speak of Bree Olson and Sasha Grey very candidly. What do you think the future of pornography? Do you think it will remain in this taboo realm or surface more to even be part of people's social media interactions? Perhaps it will even be prescribed to repressed individuals. What do you think?

It's actually good that porn is in the taboo realm because that makes it hotter. And we all love and could use a little spice in our lives.

I think major things will start to change in the business of adult films soon because a lot of the profit has evaporated due to the Tube sites online. No one pays for porn.  That's got to stop. But it appears that industry is still making enough that they can churn out a bunch of titles every month.

At some point I see it going to a Netflix model mixed with the Apple music curation element because with sooooo many options, a guide is necessary.

I can also see a situation where a lot of the stars themselves worked together to make a Snapchat channel or pool together to make their own Snapchat-like app where they all put up snaps on a regular basis that are, unlike Snapchat, fully nude, and unlike the xxx industry, financially favorable for the performers. I could see them charging a small membership fee each month and placing clickable ads in between every 7th or 8th snap that would lead to merch or toys or ways to get custom items from ones favorite star.

But this giving away the farm is unsustainable and ridiculous. Maybe they should just call themselves charities right now.


What are you looking forward to in the near and distant future?

The Cubs are on a very clear path to win the World Series. I feel like an expectant mother. Fortunately I can drink and eat sushi.


Do you have any questions for me?

What do you do when the creative juices decide to take a vacation?

Ha. Good question. I have so many different projects for my work and personal artwork/side projects that the "creative juices" just keep flowing (fortunately). With work it's like I know that's what I am there for, to be creative, so if something is not coming forth I blame it on sitting in an office and limiting myself on purpose so I get up and walk around SoHo or the West Village and go to a nearby gallery to clear my head. Looking at art, even bad art restarts my kid brain. Also, if I cannot come up with the right solution for work I usually forget about "the company" for a moment and just respond to it personally, which usually works. Sometimes that goes into a very quirky zone, but then you realize that's what people actually want. With my personal artwork and projects, it's a little different. This blog is really helpful because it allows me to step back and be a little more analytical, and then I can forget about it and roll up my sleeves and do artwork, which always feels like playing. Sometimes I stump myself if I think about what art has to be and then I remind myself of artists I deeply like such as Andrea Zittel, who is more about creating systems to live by and systems to live in. Her work always reminds me that art can be very personal in a practical way without needing to be emotional or even expressive. Or I look at work by Toshio Saeki. His stuff is so bizarre and perverse that it always teaches me to let go of inhibitions. So to answer your question...I think if creative juices take a vacation it's because we set ourselves up for that. One thing that helps me a lot too is that I run every day, and once a week I do a really long run, which clears my head and let's me start anew. It's the eddying of pointless thoughts that bogs down the creative process. If we return to our base of childhood curiosity there is no limit.   

Thanks Tony!

Since this interview, Tony has posted a great write-up about me on his blog. Click on the image here to read: